COMMISSIONED REPORT TO THE GAMBIA’S TRUTH RECONCILIATION AND REPARATION COMMISSION: 1994-2017
by Professor Abdoulaye Saine, Ph. DProfessor-Saine-TRRC-FINAL-REPORT
The Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission TRRC is continuing its investigations on the death of former Minister of finance, Ousman Koro Ceesay. The commission has also opened investigations on the attack on road users by former President Yaya Jammeh’s convoy, and civil servants who were detained and had their rights violated. The commission therefore calls on victims and witnesses to these incidents to contact the TRRC personally at its headquarters or call the following telephone numbers:
Statement by the Chair, Dr. Lamin J. Sise, at the opening of the 11th Session of the TRRC’s public hearings
On Thursday, December 5, 2019, the TRRC concluded its 10th three-week session of public hearings. During that session, which focused on former president Jammeh’s witch hunts and saw the Commission’s first set of regional hearings conducted in the Greater Banjul Area, Jambur, Sibanor and Essau, 37 witnesses appeared before the Commission. The total number of witnesses appearing before the Commission since the commencement of the public hearings on January 7, 2019 is now 188. These include 51 women, 35 perpetrators, alleged perpetrators and adversely mentioned persons, and 23 Gambian Diaspora witnesses who testified via video link. In addition to the public hearings, one closed hearing and two protected witness hearings were held during 2019.
This 11th session of the public hearings, the first in 2020, begins today, January 20 and will end on Thursday, February 6.
The Commission had initially planned to start this year’s hearings with testimonies from victims of the former president’s alternative HIV/AIDS and other ailments treatment programme. However, due to circumstances beyond our control, this was not possible. The present session will therefore start with testimony from an expert witness as envisaged under the relevant provisions of the TRRC Act and the Commission’s Rules of Procedure. The expert will focus on the making of the Jammeh dictatorship. The session will then continue with testimonies on the violation of the rights of religious leaders – both Muslim and Christian – that happened under the previous regime. During the course of the session, and should the need arise, witnesses on other themes may be invited to testify before the Commission.
As we begin this 11th session of public hearings, we brace ourselves for yet another series of revelations of human rights violations and abuses perpetrated against the people of this country by the very government that was supposed to protect their lives and liberties. Since hearings started in January 2019, the Commission and indeed the Gambian people and all who have been following our proceedings heard the most horrendous violations of human rights and abuses.
From the extrajudicial killings of the November 11, 1994 victims, to the murder of Ousman Koro Ceesay, the murders of innocent people like Deyda Hydara, Haruna Jammeh, Marcie Jammeh, the April 2000 student victims, and the sexual violence meted out to several young women by none other than the custodians of the State. The graphic confessions of the Junglers almost made it imperative to wonder whether reason itself had gone mad in this country.
But nothing prepared us for the revelations of the 2009 witch hunts sponsored by the State. Anyone who watched and listened to the testimonies of the witch hunt victims is not likely to forget anytime soon or to outgrow the feeling of sadness that was generated by the senseless pain inflicted on those victims. During that dark and tragic episode of our nation’s history, hundreds of innocent men, women and even children were picked up at random by security forces accompanied by quack witch doctors, subjected to all manner of humiliating treatment, and forced to drink strange concoctions that instantly caused them to momentarily lose their senses, At least 39 people died as a result of taking the concoctions.
Up to this day, hundreds continue to struggle with seemingly intractable health conditions. And all this executed by our own security forces on the orders of the highest authority in the land, whose sacred duty it was to serve and protect the people.
It is perhaps common knowledge that only a fraction of the victims of the witch hunts gave statements to the TRRC or came forward to testify publicly. We believe that a significant number of victims chose not to come forward to testify. Many victims were dissuaded from giving statements or having family members testify on their behalf for fear of stigmatization that comes from being branded a witch in our culture and society. The abiding shame and pain that comes with such branding can only be imagined and may never be fully described even by the victims themselves simply because it defies description. Victims who testified before the Commission during our last session spoke of the extraordinary humiliation they suffered and continue to suffer since false allegations of witchcraft were leveled against them by agents of the state, ten years ago.
The devastating impact of the 2009 witch hunts on the survivors and their families calls for sober reflection by all Gambians. Indeed, considering the magnitude of the shame and pain suffered by these victims and their families on a day to day basis, we dare say that as a country we need to reform some of our cultural attitudes. The work ahead of us, as a Commission and as a country will not be easy. The path will be rocky and tear-filled and the challenges will be daunting.
But with determination and the use of reason, we can see the successful completion of this important national project and collectively move our country towards abiding peace, reconciliation, healing and well deserved justice for all victims of human rights violations in this country. We are certain that together as a nation, Gambians will successfully emerge from this painful process a stronger and better people who will never again allow their human rights and dignities to be violated with impunity.
The TRRC continues to encourage all victims of human rights violations and abuses to come forward and give statements to the Commission.
On that note, the TRRC continues to crave the support and blessings of all members of the public at home and abroad as we begin this 11th session of public hearings.
Last night the TRRC took part in one of the biggest shows of social cohesion and coming together, the Fulbe Africa Cultural Festival which annually brings together the diverse members of one of the largest and most widespread ethnic groups in West Africa. It’s a show that celebrates commonalities above the small differences, with over 5,000 people from Guinea, Senegal, Nigeria, Cameroun, The Gambia and beyond. On the 7th edition of the festival, one of the best poets in The Gambia and dynamic Youth Empowerment Officer at the TRRC Youth & Children Unit, Cherno Gaye delivered a wonderful poetic performance that carried the message of unity, social Cohesion and the TRRC’s #NeverAgain campaign. He also encouraged potential victims of human rights violations of the past 22years to come forward to file their case with the commission, not only to help the TRRC in establishing a true picture of the violations that happened here over the past 22 years but to also be eligible to be considered for reparations at the end of the TRRC truth seeking process.
Presentation of Submissions by women from Sintet, Janjanbureh and Basse to the TRRC
Participation of women, especially survivors of SGBV in truth seeking processes continues to be a challenge in the Gambia. Whilst men and women suffered serious human rights violations in the former regime, women are less likely to participate in the truth-seeking process especially survivors of SGBV. Since the TRRC started work in January, out of 188 witnesses that participated in the public hearings, only 48 are women. In several other countries, women’s groups have made official submissions to Truth Commissions on behalf of particular women to help them share their experiences, particularly in contexts where they were not comfortable sharing them publicly.
In order to improve the participation of women in the truth seeking process of the Gambia while protecting them from stigmatization, the International Center for Transitional Justice (ICTJ) collaborated with women support groups in Sintet (west Coast Region, Janjanbureh (Central River Region) and Basse (Upper River Region) to collect the experiences of women of sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) during the 22 years dictatorial regime of former President Jammeh and the impact of the violations on their lives and families.
ICTJ conducted a series of consultations and workshops with approximately 179 women in the above-mentioned areas between December 2018 and November 2019, including women leaders and victims.
Since the report is on the experiences of women and their recommendations to the TRRC, 20 women representatives from the involved regions intend to make a submission of it to the TRRC on the 16th of December 2019.
Sibanor head girl writes to TRRC
The head girl of Sibanor Upper Basic and Senior Secondary School in Foni has written to the TRRC expressing appreciation for the opportunity to attend the Commission’s public hearings held in the town from 25th – 28th November, 2019 and learn some valuable lessons. In a letter dated 28th November and addressed to TRRC Chair Dr. Lamin Sise, head girl Kumba Sanneh also expressed her fellow students’ optimism that the truth being revealed through the Commission’s work “will surely encourage healing, reconciliation and reparations in order to develop our beloved country, The Gambia, into a well-coordinated society…”.
Below is the full text of the head girl’s letter which Chairman Sise read out during a short break in the Commission’s proceedings in Sibanor on Thursday, 28th November.
On behalf of the students and school administration of Sibanor Upper Basic and Senior Secondary School, we would like to express our profound gratitude to the Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission’s (TRRC) Chair for allowing the students to attend the TRRC proceedings held in Sibanor from Monday the 25th to Thursday the 28th November 2019.
We are sure that the very existence of the TRRC is to dig out the human rights violations committed by the former regime. We are really optimistic that if the truth is revealed, it will surely encourage healing, reconciliation and reparations in order to develop our beloved country, The Gambia, into a well-coordinated society where the past evils will be forgiven and forgotten for good.
The outreach work of the TRRC in Sibanor gives the students the opportunity to interact with learned and respectable Commissioners. We are extremely happy to receive your wise words of inspirational advice that the TRRC findings will not only serve as a learning source but also a turning point for the young generation as they are the future leaders of this country, The Gambia.
We take this opportunity to appeal to our mothers and fathers who have suffered in one way or the other to bury the past and forgive in the name of Allah so that together we would build a better future for the young generation, bearing in mind the slogan “Never Again”. May the All Mighty Allah protect all of us, especially you, the Chair and Commissioners in your noble endeavours.
Kumba Sanneh (Head Girl)
TRRC MEETING WITH UN SPECIAL RAPPORTEUR ON PROMOTING TRUTH, JUSTICE, REPARATIONS AND GUARANTEES OF NON-RECURRENCE
On the 22nd November 2019, the Chairman of the TRRC, the Executive Secretary and heads of various units met with Mr. Fabian Salvioli, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Promotion of Truth, Justice, Reparations and Guarantees of Non-Recurrence. The meeting was part of a monitoring exercise by the UN on the Transitional Justice process in the Gambia.
Mr Salvioli said the UN particularly his office, is closely following developments in the Gambia’s Truth Commission and TJ process. He said that the TRRC has shouldered a great responsibility not only to the Gambia but to the world and must be commended for the way it has conducted its work so far, despite the traumatising nature of the work. However, he said there is always room for improvement and therefore raised a number of issues which he believed should be borne in mind.
Mr Salvioli said based on his direct engagement with some victims, he believes more efforts should be made to reach out to more victims as some are still unwilling or feel intimidated to come forward with their stories. This, he said, may be because they do not fully understand the nature of the process well or the confidentiality and security measures that are in place to protect them. Mr Salvioli therefore proposed that more decentralised hearings such as was done in Jambur and Sibanor should be utilised to reach more victims. He also suggested that home visits can be a good follow up measure to make victims feel better about participating the process.
Mr Salvioli also advised based on experience from his own home country (Argentina), that simply unearthing human rights violations will not often enough> He said a large enough number of witnesses must also be reached in order to have a true picture of the scale of violence. This he said, not only helps in prosecutions (especially in charges of crimes such as against humanity), but also helps to avoid sympathisers of dictatorship from playing down the severity of violations that occurred.
Mr Salvioli also underscored the necessity of emphatically addressing retaliations and intimidation of witnesses. He expressed confidence in the TRRC in this regard based on his observations from the hearings in Jambur. He highlighted the fact that some Junglers are out and about in communities as worrying to some victims and communities and therefore, the TRRC must be ensured that intimidation and retaliations are not tolerated in the least.
The Special Rapporteur further reminded the TRRC that the way it works should be consistent with international standards of accountability compatible with International Human Rights Law and treaties ratified by the Gambia. He said certain crimes notwithstanding that they are not crimes against humanity, cannot be afforded amnesty. He said crimes such as torture, forced disappearances and extra-judicial killing are of such gravity that they require accountability even when committed by individuals with direction from the state. Granting amnesty to certain violations therefore may violate international treaty agreements which the Gambia is signatory to and where those violations amount to crimes against humanity, may even result in the ICC bringing legal action against the Gambia.
Ending his statement, Mr Salvioli touched on the issue of reparations. He said that reparations should not be left to the end of the TRRC process as there are many, such as the victims of the witch-hunting exercise who need substantial psychosocial support and health care and such needs cannot wait. He concluded by reiterating his commendation to the TRRC, stating that the issues he pointed out were small reminders to improve what is already extraordinarily good work so far.
TRRC Chairman Dr Lamin Sise thanked the UN Special Rapporteur, saying that the the TRRC’s work is indeed a traumatising task to undertake. He said some of the testimonies ranging from extra-judicial killings to the Junglers killer squad, heinous sexual and gender-based violence to the incredible details of witch-hunting in the 21st century can leave staff with sleepless nights, but the commission is committed, determined and will pursue the fulfilment of its mandate to the letter.
Dr Sise assured the UN Special Rapporteur that the TRRC is cognisant of all the concerns he raised and is guided by a well-defined Act (the TRRC Act 2017) and well developed rules of procedure. He indicated that in terms of addressing victim concerns, outreach has been a key component and continues to enlighten the public on the TRRC process. Regarding reparations he pointed out that the Act provides for granting of urgent interim reparations which are on-going.
The Vice chairperson of the TRRC Adelaide Sosseh who also chairs the Reparations Committee, explained that the Reparations Committee has already developed a Reparations Policy and draft regulations which will be shared with stakeholders for input and adoption. She said that although the government has already given D50 million seed money for the reparations fund, these funds must wait for the Reparations Policy to be finalised so as to manage the process efficiently. However, she pointed out that interim reparations are ongoing and the Gambian diaspora has been particularly helpful in supporting the ongoing reparation efforts which the Victim Support Unit is already providing to victims.
Samba Touray Assistant Victim Support Co-ordinator explained that the VSU is the first point of contact for victims and while taking their bio-data, victims are also assessed for any immediate needs. Those with medical needs are sent to the medical Board which was set up the request of the TRRC to the Ministry of Health for assessment. Mr Touray reported that so far 47 people have been sent to the Medical Board, 12 of whom have been recommended for overseas treatment. Out of those 12, 9 are currently in the process of going to Turkey for treatment with the help of the Turkish Government. Mr Touray also said that victims are also forwarded to the Psychosocial Support Unit who assess them further to determine whether they or members of their families need Psychosocial support. He concluded by pointing out that the TRRC is also providing educational support to victims whose children need support towards education, as well as livelihood support for those who want to engage in economic activities to be able to provide for themselves. This livelihood support initiative is done in collaboration with the national Association of animal Breeders.
Deputy Lead Counsel Horejah Bala-Gaye explained that the Legal Team works closely with the Research & Investigations Unit as well as the Psychosocial Support Unit to ensure psychosocial support is available to all victims considering the difficult nature of testifying about human rights violations. In relation to confidentiality and giving relevant support to victims, Mrs Bala-Gaye highlighted that in dealing with the theme of sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) for example, a small taskforce was set up to deal with victims considering the significance of confidentiality issues related to SGBV. Furthermore, she said it was also recognised that it would take longer to build trust with SGBV victims thus some victims were engaged months before the actual scheduled dates of hearing. Mrs Bala-Gaye pointed out that despite the capacity challenges in the PSS unit, psychosocial support is given even to those witnesses who live abroad and testify via video link. She concluded by pointing out that the TRRC is currently working on also rolling out a witness protection program following some capacity building trainings for staff thanks to the help of the ICC.
Mr Abdou Manneh, deputy director of research and Investigations talked about his Unit’s work, particularly highlighting efforts to address disappearances. He pointed out that from the investigations conducted by his unit, as well as testimony from witnesses particularly junglers, many leads have been developed regarding the fate of many disappeared persons. However, Mr Manneh highlighted lack of relevant forensic equipment as a hinderance in this area of the TRRC’s work despite the successful recovery of some victims’ remains.
Mr Essa Jallow, Communication specialist for the TRRC said that outreach activities have been an integral part of the process alongside the hearings. The focus has been on highlighting the importance of victims coming forward to help establish the truth of what happened and the scale of it, as well us explaining the different types of hearings victims can expect and which are in place ensure witness confidentiality and security.
The UN special rapporteur thanked the TRRC team for their feedback. He added a final point by reminding the Commission of the common misunderstanding relating to reconciliation, forgiveness and amnesty. He said that the misunderstandings mainly stemmed from the South African Commission where perpetrators were asked to apologise to the victims, and this was considered as reconciliation. He pointed out that victims can be re-victimised if they feel pressured or forced to forgive or to accept an apology. Mr Salvioli noted that reconciliation is a different notion from forgiveness and involves the state taking measures to regain public trust. Therefore, there cannot be reconciliation without justice. He said that impunity must not prevail, and the state must prosecute certain offenders even if they have been forgiven by individual victims.
The Executive Secretary acknowledged this observation, stating that the TRRC aims to provide justice to witnesses. However, he said that from historical experience, it is not conducive to have retributive justice simultaneously with the truth-seeking process. He pointed out that the truth-seeking mechanism, victim reparations and promoting non recurrence are all restorative and other forms of justice which are currently ongoing.
Mr Salvioli concluded the meeting by thanking the TRRC team again and assured them of the UN and his office’s continuous support.
Addressing SGBV matters
Statement by the Chairman, Dr. Lamin J. Sise, at the opening of the 10th Session of the TRRC’s public hearings November 11, 2019
On Thursday October 31, the TRRC concluded its 9th session of public hearings. During that session, 15 witnesses testified, bringing the total number of witnesses to testify before the Commission to 144. Thirty-one of these witnesses were female, 113 male. Thirty-two were perpetrators and alleged perpetrators. The 9th session was yet another phase of the public hearings of the Commission dedicated to victims of sexual and gender-based violence who, against all odds, were willing to come forward and recount in public their private pain, pain that they had suffered in silence for so long.
Sexual violence and sexual slavery are terrible crimes that can shock the human conscience as we have seen recently in the trial, conviction and sentencing of Jean Bosco Ntaganda at the International Criminal Court. These terrible crimes must be taken seriously, investigated and exposed no matter by whom they were committed. The perpetrators of these crimes cannot and must not escape justice. Jean Bosco Ntaganda has not escaped justice!
The testimonies of victims during the 9th session revealed that officials in the highest echelons of government and their subordinates inflicted upon weak and vulnerable women horrendous sexual violence and abuse that not only violated the relevant criminal laws of the land, but was also a stain on the moral fiber of The Gambia.
The Commission was appalled to note that after sharing their painful experiences of sexual violence with the Gambian public, some of these women had to contend with a barrage of vilifications from some members of our society. So bad was this negative backlash against these brave women that the Commission had to issue a press statement urging restraint and respect for these victims.
Perhaps we should share the fact that those courageous women who came forward to publicly testify about being sexually violated are a select few among many with whom the TRRC has had conversations but who declined to testify either publicly or behind closed doors for a number of reasons, but particularly because they dread the public stigma and insults that will follow them afterwards.
The Commission, of course, fully understands and respects the decision of these women not to testify. The Commission equally feels the pain of those who testified and were subsequently stigmatized and vilified.
The Commission appeals to all members of the public to be more sensitive to the pain of these vulnerable women and to respect their privacy and integrity. The Commission urges all victims to please come forward and file their complaints with the TRRC, even if they are unwilling to testify. Victim participation in this process is extremely important in helping the Commission get to the truth of what happened regarding sexual and gender-based violence and other forms of human rights abuses.
In this 10th session of public hearings that starts today, November 11 and will end on December 5, the Commission will hear testimonies on the 2009 witch hunting exercise conducted against innocent Gambians by the former president and members of his security forces, with the help of sorcerers. Where necessary, the Commission will, during the course of these hearings, hear testimony on other forms of human rights violations and abuses. It should be noted that the venue and format of this session differs from our previous public hearings in two important respects:
First, with the exception of the first week of the hearings, i.e. from November 11 – 14, the rest of the public hearings will be held in the villages and towns of Sibanor and Jambur in the West Coast Region, and Essau in the North Bank Region. Second, this session will last four weeks, instead of the usual three.
It is anticipated that all the hearings will be covered and streamed live by both QTV and other media houses and journalists. Hearings for the first week of the session from November 11 – 14 will be held here in this hall. From November 18 – 21, the hearings will be held in Jambur, and from November 25 – 28 in Sibanor. During the fourth and final week of the session, from December 2 – 5, the Commission’s public hearings will be held in Essau in the North Bank Region.
In preparation for these public hearings on the witch hunts, staff from the TRRC secretariat and legal team with the support of the UNDP transitional justice project conducted a series of pre-hearing outreach activities in Sintet, Sibanor, Jambur and Essau.
The teams visited all these communities and met village heads, kabilo heads, Imams and other elders with a view to informing them of the Commission’s work plan for this session, seeking their support and blessings, and identifying suitable venues for the public hearings in their respective areas. We are glad to report that all these community engagements went very well indeed and proved very fruitful. Our staff will continue working on outreach and the logistics required for these regional hearings in the coming days and weeks.
Finally, please allow me, on behalf of the Commissioners and staff of the TRRC, to reiterate this Commission’s firm resolve to execute the mandate entrusted to us by the people of this country to the best of our ability and strictly in line with the requirements of the TRRC Act.
While we have covered a lot of ground on our projected two-year work plan, there is still a lot of work to be done. And so as we start this 10th and final session of public hearings for 2019, we continue to crave the support and prayers of all members of the general public.
Thank you for your kind attention.
TRRC: Putting Truth, Justice and Reconciliation in Perspective
By Dr. Baba Galleh Jallow
In addition to competing narratives, another interesting conundrum the TRRC is constantly faced with is a series of interrelated demands made by some segments of Gambian society. All too often, demands like truth before reconciliation, justice before reconciliation, or truth and justice before reconciliation are made on Gambian media circles. The absolute terms in which these demands are tabled before the TRRC in the public domain suggest a linear process where one thing must happen before another can, and that we must have truth and justice before any talk of reconciliation. Truth, justice and reconciliation are rendered mutually exclusive and isolated occurrences that must happen one after another. Yet, as we hope to demonstrate below, a good measure of truth has been generated by the TRRC and reconciliation cannot wait for justice because justice as criminal prosecutions can only happen after the TRRC submits its recommendations and ceases to exist.
There is no denying the fact that a lot of the truth about human rights violations that happened in The Gambian between July 1994 and January 2017 has been unveiled through the TRRC’s public hearings. A good measure of the truth about circumstances and specific details surrounding the July 22, 1994 coup and the arrests, detentions and tortures of former PPP ministers has been unveiled. Similarly, a lot of hitherto unknown truths about the November 11thincident, including the burial site of at least seven of the victims, have been uncovered by the TRRC. Ditto truths about the January 1995 arrests and detentions of Sadibou Haidara and Sanna Sabally, the June 1995 murder of Ousman Koro Ceesay, and the 1996 Denton Bridge incident involving UDP supporters and security forces. Also, we now know truths about the painful experiences of Gambian media and journalists, including the murder of Deyda Hydara that we did not know before the TRRC. Truths such as how Deyda was put under surveillance, closely monitored, followed, and shot dead by agents of the state from a speeding car are now public knowledge. We now even know who pulled the trigger. Truths about the activities of the Junglers and what happened to people like Ndure Cham, Haruna and Marcie Jammeh, and the 56 West African nationals, among others have also been revealed by the Junglers themselves. More recently, the TRRC has uncovered hitherto unknown truths about the experiences of the survivors of the April 10 and 11, 2000 student demonstrations, and the victims and survivors of sexual and gender-based violations.
Taken together, the 114 witness testimonies Gambians have heard so far reveal several truths about a regime under which due process and the rule of law were key casualties. Thanks to the confessions of perpetrators and the harrowing stories of victims, there is no denying the truth that during the period under review, Gambians were arbitrarily arrested and detained, tortured, sexually abused, and often extra judicially executed. There is no denying the truth emerging from witness testimonies that such fundamental rights as the right to be charged or arraigned before a court of law were unlawfully denied Gambians and that once under detention, victims were subjected to some of the cruelest forms of inhumane treatment mostly by their fellow Gambians. Along the same lines, through the TRRC hearings Gambians now see the damaging extent to which political power and office were personalized in this country.
In the light of all of the above, we can clearly see that calls for truth before reconciliation are a bit too unfair. Of course, some who make this demand are perhaps referring to individual truths that must be told before victim – perpetrator reconciliation can take place. And that is a perfectly legitimate demand. Although some victims may choose to reconcile with their tormentors even if their tormentors do not speak the whole truth, it is reasonable to expect that most victims will never consider reconciling with a perpetrator as long as the perpetrator refuses to tell them the specific truths they need to have healing and closure. And that is a perfectly legitimate position to take. What is problematic is that some who demand truth before reconciliation render their statements in such categorical terms as to suggest that the TRRC must not carry out any reconciliation work at all until the truth is known. But exactly what truth remains rather vague in this formulation, because as we can see above, a lot of very important truths have already been revealed through the TRRC’s public hearings.
Equally problematic is the justice before reconciliation or no reconciliation without justice demand. This demand too, is rendered in absolute terms that suggest a strictly linear process in which justice must happen before reconciliation. It is clear that those who make this demand understand or choose to understand justice mainly as the criminal prosecution of both alleged and confessed perpetrators. For this reason, some elements of procedural justice (of which criminal prosecution is a part) and other forms of justice such as social justice, poetic justice, and restorative justice (among others) happening within the TRRC process are ignored by those who demand that we must have justice before reconciliation.
In a very real sense, the public hearings of the TRRC engender certain forms of social justice. The fact that victims have a public platform to confront their individual tormentors or the state, name and shame alleged perpetrators and perpetrators, freely tell their stories, express their outrage and demand accountability feeds into the wider Gambian social justice discourse that currently animates the public space. The TRRC has generated a conversation on who we are as a people, what should be the right relations between state and society, and between the individual and the state, why human rights violations of such magnitude could happen in this country, and how we can best prevent a recurrence of such violations or the emergence of dictatorship in The Gambia. Equally important, both the Commission’s public hearings and outreach activities have generated serious conversations around social justice issues like gender, power relations, public service and social status in Gambian society. Social justice as a concept of truthfulness and fairness in the conduct of public affairs is thus very much a part of our transitional justice process, thanks in no small measure to the work of the TRRC.
And then there is poetic justice. True, the great majority of perpetrators and alleged perpetrators are yet to be arrested and charged with criminal offenses because in the context of the TRRC’s mandate, that can only happen after the Commission submits its recommendations to the government. That takes nothing away from the fact that alleged perpetrators and perpetrators are being called upon to render public accounts of their involvement in human rights violations. Hopefully no one imagines that sitting on the witness chair, in front of television cameras, and before both national and international audiences and being asked to come clean on your part in the unlawful arrests, detentions, torture and killings of your fellow Gambians is an easy thing for the perpetrators. Yes, some may be economical with the truth and some may utter outright lies and denials of culpability. But all perpetrators are nevertheless alive to the fact that the entire country and especially their spouses, their children, their loved ones and their friends and relatives are all watching and listening. That experience is probably not as bad as spending years in prison, but it is nevertheless painful and humiliating, thus representing a form of poetic justice, defined as “the fact of experiencing a fitting or deserved retribution for one’s actions” or in more cultural terms, suffering the bitter fruits of bad karma under the full glare of public scrutiny. Moreover, there is no doubt that their spouses, children, relatives and in some cases parents also suffer a great deal of pain and humiliation both during and after perpetrators’ and alleged perpetrators’ testimonies.
And then there is the fact of restorative justice which, within the context of the TRRC is happening in the form of ongoing support and interim reparations to victims, or reparative justice, defined as “measures that seek to repair, in some way, the harm done to victims as a result of human rights violations done to them.” So far, at least 40 victims have been benefitting from both the services of the Medical Board set up in November 2018 at the TRRC’s request, as well as from psychosocial and other forms of support rendered through the Commission’s interim reparations program. To illustrate, nine victims from the April 2000 and April / May 2016 incidents are currently being considered for overseas medical treatment. The TRRC obtained passports for eight of these victims who did not possess them to facilitate their travel. This is in addition to the fact that at least three young victims are now benefitting from full scholarships to pursue their education. Three victims, including the head of our Victim Support Unit and two survivors of the April 10 / 11, 2000 student demonstrations are employed full time at the TRRC. The daughter of one victim has been provided free space at the TRRC headquarters from where she runs a canteen providing meals, drinks and other catering services for Commissioners, staff and visitors to the Commission. These are just some of the ways in which restorative justice is happening as a result of the TRRC’s work.
In essence then, the justice before reconciliation demand tends to reduce the entire TRRC process to the occurrence of retributive justice, the criminal prosecution of perpetrators and alleged perpetrators. Yet, as is evident from the Commission’s various victim support and outreach activities, recommendations for criminal prosecutions are only one aspect of the Commission’s work, however important. Moreover, criminal prosecution of alleged perpetrators and confessed perpetrators can only happen after all the evidence has been gathered and analyzed and recommendations submitted to the government. And therein lies the problem with the justice before reconciliation demand. By the time retributive justice is meted out to perpetrators, the TRRC would have wrapped up its work and ceased to exist as an institution. Entertaining the justice before reconciliation demand would therefore mean that the Commission must entirely ignore and fail to execute the reconciliation aspect of its mandate. Such an eventuality is, of course, inconceivable; and so the TRRC can only assure those who make this demand that the Commission will, at the end of its work, submit recommendations for the prosecution of those considered most responsible for the human rights violations that occurred in this country during its mandate period.
In conclusion, it is fair to suggest that the TRRC has indeed revealed quite a number of important and hitherto unknown truths through its public hearings. There is also ample evidence that certain forms of justice are happening within the process, especially poetic and restorative / reparative justice, and that realistically, justice as criminal prosecutions can only happen after the end of the TRRC mandate and cannot therefore warrant the suspension of the Commission’s work on reconciliation.
Hot FM 104.3’s Esau Williams interviews TRRC Director of Research and Investigations
Gambians in Norway donate to TRRC
The Association of Gambians in Oslo, Norway presented a cheque for D100, 000 to the Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission as their contribution towards victims’ support. Speaking at the Presentation Ceremony at the TRRC, Mr Sheikh Tijan Nyang a representative of the association in The Gambia said the association was formed in the ’70s with aim of supporting Gambians in Norway. The association’s support he added, has now been extended to Education by providing scholarships to students in both conventional and Arabic Schools and health. Mr. Nyang spoke about the revelations at the TRRC hearings and expressed hope that justice would be served, and that the D100, 000 would help to heal the wounds of those that suffered.
Mr.Mam Sait Njie, another representative of the Association in the country, said the composition of the Commission, had given great hope to Gambians that issues surrounding rights violations would be addressed. He hoped that the commission would be able to manage the situation despite its complexity. “Whatever the commission recommends, that’s what the people will believe”. He recognised that the task is difficult and finally thanked the Commission for the noble job.
The Deputy Chairperson of the Commission, Ms. Adelaide Sosseh, who led the Europe leg of the TRRC Diaspora engagements, said their visit was in line with the TRRC Mandate and one of the main objectives was to raise funds for the interim reparations to victims. She said they were met with great Gambian hospitality, adding that Gambians in Norway and other countries responded positively towards the engagement. Mrs. Sosseh revealed that while in Europe, the team did not only embark on fundraising but also managed to reconcile People. She thanked the donors for the support and clarified that the government is primarily responsible for granting Reparations.
OUR NATION OUR VOICE: Short film on youth participation Transitional Justice.
On the 4th February 2018, the International Center for Transitional Justice (ICTJ) in partnership with the Truth Reconciliation and Reparations Commissions (TRRC) embarked on a ten-day nationwide caravan tour intended to use music, poetry and art as sensitization tools on transitional justice and nation-building. The theme of the caravan was #Our Nation Our Voice and songs were created on this theme by artists Awa Bling, Boobo Dimo, Yapse Lyrical and Killa Ace as well as poems from Lala Touray and Cherno Gaye (youth empowerment officers at the TRRC). The Tour also involved youth activists from different backgrounds.
The caravan covered three regions of the Gambia URR, CRR and NBR going into the hardest to reach villages in these regions to dialogue with communities on participation in the Transitional justice process but also in the political process of the Gambia. The activities were documented by a filmmaker and a short film was produced in addition to the music and poetry videos that were made by the artists. The Entire album was officially launched on October 26 2019 at the Westfield youth Monument. Below is the short film that was made by this dynamic group of young people.
Vox pop on Sexual and Gender-Based Violence
Understanding SGBV part 2
Understanding SGBV part 1
TRRC Press Release
The Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission (TRRC)takes note that on the 4thNovember 2019, during the Yankuba Touray Trial, Counsel for Mr. Yankuba Touray requested that the Court issue a Bench Warrant against the Executive Secretary of the Commission Dr Baba Galleh Jallow, for failing to appear and present certain documents requested by the Defence.
Without delving into the merits of the application of the Defence Counsel, the Office of the Lead Counsel of the TRRC wishes to inform the general public that the TRRC, in fact, sent a representative who was present in Court during the hearing. It is sufficient in this particular instance that an authorized official of the TRRC was present in Court in pursuance of the Summons to Produce Documents. The Court was also notified of this fact by the Prosecutor in charge of the case. As such, the TRRC is of the view that the application of the Defence for a Bench Warrant against Dr Jallow was unnecessary. In any case, Section 25 of the TRRC Act 2017, grants immunity to the Executive Secretary and other staff of the Commission from civil and criminal proceedings for any act or omission done in the official performance of their functions. In this context, a Bench Warrant against the Executive Secretary or any other staff of the TRRC would be unlawful.
The TRRC wishes to inform the general public that it will always comply with all lawful orders of the Courts addressed to it, including orders to produce any documents that it may be lawfully requested to produce. In this case, the documents that the Executive Secretary of the TRRC was requested to produce before the court were not produced by the representative of the Commission because of the arguments between the parties which are yet to be ruled upon and also the absence of an order by the judge for that person to take the witness stand and submit the documents to the Court.
The TRRC wishes to further inform the general public that all the available materials requested by the Defence to be produced during the hearing were in fact already provided to Mr Yankuba Touray as required by the TRRC Provisional Rules of Procedure. As such, the submission of the same set of documents to the Court as requested by the Defence of Mr. Yankuba Touray would have just amounted to a duplication of the process. Nonetheless, the TRRC was represented in Court by an official of the Commission who possessed the relevant documents and was available to produce them to the Court if asked to do so.
Finally, the TRRC assures all concerned that it will always endeavour to comply with the law.
Youth in Transitional Justice
Here’s a glimpse of Youth participation in the Transitional Justice process. Musician Bobo Diimo from the youth movement Our nation our voice, a group of talented Gambian youth supported by ICTJ and in partnership with TRRC, doing their part through music and art. You can follow them on Youtube Channel ‘Our Nation Our Voice’.
Women victims testify…
This Weeks hearings at the TRRC began with focus on some of the women victims of the former regime. Tata Camara of Janbureh, Duta Kamasso of Sutukoba and Binta Kuyateh of Brikamaba, all women, on Monday June 17th became the latest victims to narrate their harrowing and emotional ordeals before the Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission. Their testimonies revealed details of the systematic distortion of the rule of law and good governance. In the opening session of the proceedings, Tata Camara told the Commission that she served the PPP government for almost 33 years before becoming a UDP member at the early moments of the party’s formation when she was designated as the chairperson for Janjanbureh area.She informed the commission that a few moments prior to the 2001 presidential elations, while working at her rice field, a police officer came and instructed her to come with her on the instructions of one Major Bojang who was at the time the regional commissioner for Central River Region. Upon arrival at the governor’s premises, the governor questioned her as to why she was not supporting the APRC party and she insisted that she would never subscribe to the ideals of APRC. She further cited that when the commissioner failed to persuade her into joining the APRC, she was escorted by the Commissioner himself back to her house only to be arrested a few days later together with her one year, one month old baby by agents of the defunct National Intelligent Agency (NIA). She was detained for twenty-three days under horrific conditions.Accord to Mrs Camara, the reasons for her arrest was to intimidate her and compelled her to downgrade her affiliation with the UDP. She said that the arrest was sanctioned by the reports of one Omar Mambureh, an NIA agent attached at Janjanbureh, aided by Kulu Gibba of the Gambia police force. Mrs. Camara lamented that while under custody, her breastfeeding baby was taken away from her and placed on a bare floor of the varanda before being taking away by relatives who continued to feed her with artificial milk. While in solitary confinement at the NIA, the witness stated that neither family, nor legal visits were granted to her. She also said that food was served to her just once when she became malnourished and weak and food was then brought from the prisons, but she refused to eat. She was later released without any charge or trial.Mrs Camara also testified that moments after Yahya Jammeh won the presidential election of 2001, the jubilating APRC supporters stormed her compound and vandalized the entire corrugated fence and her little children, one of whom was just eight years old, were arbitrarily arrested and detained at the police station for three days without charge.
The second witness, Dutta Kamaso who was a former APRC member of parliament for Wulli East, testified that she fell out with her party after being termed recalcitrant as she refused to be used as a puppet for the regime but rather to serve with due diligence for the overall interest of the Gambian people especially her constituency who elected her into office. She claimed to have been arrested in 2006 at the border village of Amdanlai after returning from taking her sick son to Dakar for treatment. She was escorted by a plain clothed official who claimed to be acting under directives. The witness told the commission that her documents were confiscated at the border and she was detained at the police headquarters and later escorted to her residence where her belongings were searched and subsequently, they arraigned her at the National Intelligent Agency headquarters in Banjul. There, she was interrogated about the newspapers she reads, people she communicated with and whether she knew Pa Nderry Mbai (an outspoken critic of the former regime who was operated an online radio in the United StatesThe former parliamentarian alleged that Fatoumatta Jahumba Ceeesay who was a nominated Parliamentarian at the time and Yankuba Touray former junta member and state minister, were the masterminds of her arrest because they thought that her divergent views were inimical to their party’s interest. She said she was later detained by the NIA for over four months and denied both legal, family and medical attention. Her release only came about after a threat of suing the agency for unlawful detention through lawyer Borry S. Touray.
Binta Kuyateh, a UDP supporter age 63 also gave a very emotional narration of her unlawful detetion in 2012 when she was arrested by officials of the police intervention unit from amongst the crowd of an APRC rally in Brikamaba. She was later transferred to Bansang Police Station where she was detained for the night and later held incommunicado at Janjanbureh prison for 23 days without legal or medical attendance but was later arraigned before the courts and tried for four months by four different magistrates. The witness alleged that her arrest was ordered by one Mr. Kanyi Touray, who was a prominent member of the then ruling APRC party.
TRRC School Outreach: Never Again Campaign
The ‘Never Again’ campaign of the TRRC encourages a national resolve amongst all Gambians, that never again will we allow the excesses and abuses of state power of the past 22 years to ever reoccur in this country. As our Executive Secretary describes it, “it is about building the constitution and democratic values in the minds of the people” and it all starts with the children and youth. this video gives you glimpse of what we talk to the youth about when we embark on our Never Again school outreach as well as some of the interesting questions they raise.
Woman travels more that 100km to witness hearings
As the TRRC’s hearings continued to capture the interest of all sections of our society, it was with delight that we welcomed a surprise visitor to the TRRC yesterday, Monday June 24th. Mrs. Emily Nying, a local women’s Association president from Kaur area paid her own fare to visit the TRRC and witness a hearing session of the Commission at Dunes Resort in Kololi. Mrs Nying said the visit was a lifetime experience. She told members of our Communications unit that she actively participated in the selection process of one of the Commissioners, (Imam Abdurahman Sey) from CRR.
Asked what motivated her to take the long trip, Mrs. Nying said Gambia is worthy to her than anything in life, “because of the love I have for this nation, I can’t be satisfied to watch the hearings only on TV but I said I must witness it live as a life time experience“.
Interestingly, she told the TRRC staff who welcomed her that when she proposed to take the trip, her siblings and close friends told her that she needed a ticket to get access to the hearings, so she came prepared to get a ticket. She said she was happily surprised to learn at the gates that there is no such requirement.
Asked how she felt after witnessing a live session, Mrs. Nying said she felt very emotional to learn that such gruesome rights violations actually happened in the Gambia and most remarkably women were not spared.
“I can’t believe these things actually happened here before but sitting a few meters from a woman victim as she narrated her ordeal made me believed that things were definitely not well in this country” an emotional Mrs. Nying said.
As an influential community leader, she was asked about her advice to the Gambian nation and she had this to say:
“every Gambian should learn from this exercise of the TRRC that every action or inaction while executing their duties, has consequences someday, somewhere. As an individual, it makes me become very very cautious in my dealings with others“.
She also recommended that the duty bearers respect the civil and political rights of citizens and safeguard the rule of law as a guarantee to the #NeverAgain mantra.
The TRRC would like to thank Mrs Nying for recognising the significance of the TRRC’s work and her confidence in it. We would like to also clarify to the public that the TRRC hearings are free and open to the public. Access to the hearings is absolutely free and all you need to have with you is a form of identification.
Statement of the Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission
The Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission (TRRC) has issued multiple subpoenas to Mr Yankuba Touray to appear before the Commission to testify as a person adversely mention for his involvement in human rights violations between 1994 and 1996. All those subpoenae where postponed and the last subpoena was issued on the 24th day of June 2019 for his appearance and testimony before the Commission today the 26thday of June 2019.
During a meeting this morning between Mr Touray, the chairman and the Commission’s staff members, Mr Touray indicated his refusal to honour the subpoena. He is presently within the premises of the TRRC, but as has just been seen, he has clearly refused to appear and testify before the Commission pursuant to the subpoena. Mr Yankuba Touray claims that he has immunity from prosecution for all human rights violations that occurred between 1994 and 1997. It must be noted however that even if this immunity claim were to be accepted – which is not the case – he cannot lawfully refuse to appear before the Commission and answer questions that do not directly violate the immunity he claims.
Mr Yankuba Touray has also been informed on several occasions that failure to respect a subpoena issued by the TRRC constitutes a contempt of court and is therefore liable to be referred to the High Court for prosecution. In light of this, the Commission has to act firmly and within the parameters of the law to ensure that actions of this nature are dealt with, with the full force of the law. I therefore have no choice but to order the immediate arrest of Mr Yankuba Touray pursuant to section 15(1)h and 15(2)b of the TRRC Act 2017 and to hand him over forthwith to the police station that has jurisdiction over offences within this area and a referral be submitted as soon as possible to the Attorney General Chambers for Prosecution of Mr Yankuba Touray at the High Court.
ISSUED THIS 26th DAY OF JUNE 2019
Dr Lamin Sise
THE CHAIRMAN, TRRC
The TRRC on Thursday 30th May, 2019 provided “Iftar” to the Brikama and Pipeline Mosque communities as part of a wider initiative of engaging religious communities, both Muslim and Christian.
The activities are part of the Commission’s work in promoting Peace Building and Reconciliation.
Tomorrow the team will be at Bakau and Latrikunda Sabiji and on Saturday will be visiting mosques in Banjul.
Speaking at the Pipeline Mosque, TRRC Commissioner Imam Ousainou Jallow who is also the Chairman of the Reconciliation Committee at the Commission thanked the United Nations transitional justice program in The Gambia for supporting the initiative. He said that considering the role of religion amongst Gambians, it is critical that we engage and initiate conversations of peace, tolerance and reconciliation amongst ourselves and occasions like Ramadan offer special opportunity for that.
He thanked members of the community for welcoming the TRRC and asked for continued prayers so that the process of the TRRC will be guided.
Meanwhile in Brikama, the TRRC delegation was led by vice chairperson Ms Adelaide Sosseh. They were received by the Imam of Brikama Alh Sankung Touray, members of the mosque committee and council of elders. Ms sosseh in a brief speech expressed gratitude to the Imam and the elders for accepting to receive TRRC at the Brikama Central mosque. She spoke of the urgent need to reconcile the country following the 22 years of misrule.
The Imam of Brikama also expressed delight in receiving TRRC and underlined the importance of healing and reconciliation in the development of the country. TRRC chief reconciliation officer Tabu Sarr Njie earlier spoke of the important role of Imams play in peace building and reconciliation.
The TRRC will continue this initiative of engage with mosques and churches around the country.
PORTRAITS FOR POSITIVE CHANGE
Following their exhibition at the British High Commission on Tuesday, international photo journalists Jason and Helen Florio today handed over their work to the TRRC in a ceremony done by Her Excellency the British High Commissioner, Sharon Wardle.
Helen and Jason are documentary photographers and have worked in the Gambia for almost 20 years. Their project “Portraits for Positive Change” chronicles the story of victims and survivors of the 22 years of dictatorship in the The Gambia.
Speaking at the handing over ceremony, High Commissioner Wardle noted that the portraits are not about negativity but aims to promote positive change. While telling the story of victims, it also testifies to their resilience and can help Gambians in remembering and standing firm for “Never Again”. She added that the material will also help enhance the TRRC outreach activities which aim to engage people across the country.
Ms. Adelaide Sosseh, Deputy Chairperson of the Commission thanked High Commissioner Wardle as well as Jason and Helen for their love and continued support of The Gambia in our pursuit for positive change. She highlighted that the portraits are a powerful visual tool for giving survivors and victims a voice and to engage people in the TRRC’s never again campaign. She added that these photographs will form a nucleus of the Museum that the TRRC intends to setup at the end of its work, as a legacy and a remembrance of the human rights violations that occurred here, as well as a reminder that never again should we allow such things to happen in this country again.
On the part of the photographers, Jason said “As photo journalists, our aim is not just to document and create a record of events but to use our photographs as a tool for positive change and advocacy – giving a platform for the victims and their families, where they can be seen, heard, and honoured”.
The exhibition will be publicly displayed at the TRRC’s exhibition room and hearing hall and will also feature as part of the TRRC outreach activities countrywide.
TRRC NEEDS ASSESSMENT WORKSHOP
The TRRC in collaboration with with UNTJ, Tango, POLICE, UNICEF, CRS, GPU among others, held a Needs Assessment Workshop on 2nd and 3rd May, to look at various aspects of our setup and identifying areas for improvement and strategising.
TRRC Update: The Journey So Far
The TRRC ended its fourth three-week session of hearings on Thursday, April 25, 2019. During this session, 16 witnesses testified before the Commission, bringing the total number of witnesses to testify since January 7, 2019 to 57. A significant number of these witnesses are former or current members of the Gambian security services. Seven of the hearings were held with Diaspora Gambians via video conferencing. One hearing was held in camera and another was that of a protected witness. At least eight women have so far voluntarily testified before the Commission, most of them widows of the November 11, 1994 incident. The hearings during this fourth session yielded valuable evidence on circumstances surrounding the July 22, 1994 coup, the November 11 and Koro Ceesay incidents, and a 1996 incident at Denton Bridge involving supporters of the UDP. The Commission will hear more testimonies on these issues when sittings resume on June 10. It is also anticipated that time permitting, the Commission will hold its first Institutional hearing on the media during the fifth session which ends on June 28, 2019.
The TRRC experienced a significant milestone when our team of investigators discovered and exhumed the remains of seven victims of the November 11, 1994 incident at Yundum Barracks. The seven were among an estimated 14 soldiers summarily executed and buried in mass graves during the November 11 incident. Once the suspected grave sites were pointed out by witnesses and before the search for the remains started, members of all 14 families of the November 11 victims were invited several times to our offices for conversations, sensitization and counselling on the process, expectations and related issues. Victims’ families were also requested to provide any ante-mortem data they remembered to help in the subsequent identification of discovered remains. Information on things like body marks, dental features and clothing the victims wore were collected by our teams. All 14 families were also invited to the viewing of the exhumed remains at Yundum Barracks. On all occasions, the TRRC reimbursed the cost of travel to all family members attending these sessions. We will continue engaging these and other families as together we try to get justice, closure and healing for our loved ones and our country. As at the time of this update, our team of investigators continue their search for November 11 remains at Yundum Barracks.
Experiences from other jurisdictions suggest that many truth commissions find it extremely difficult if not impossible to persuade alleged perpetrators to willingly come forward to give their statements, testify on their alleged wrongdoings and shed light on crimes and human rights violations that occurred in the past. The TRRC is proving to be an exception to this rule. So far, at least nine alleged perpetrators have voluntarily come forward and testified on their alleged participation in the commission of crimes. On Wednesday 24th and Thursday 25th April, the TRRC had its most high profile alleged perpetrator yet with the appearance before the Commission of former AFPRC Vice Chairman Sanna Sabally. Sabally’s appearance came after he was served with a Notice of Adverse Mention in Dakar and subsequently accepted our invitation to come testify before the Commission. No conditions or guarantees of amnesty were attached to his appearance. We are hoping that other adversely mentioned persons will voluntarily come forward to testify. Barring a voluntary offer to testify, the TRRC may subsequently invite and if necessary subpoena these persons to appear before the Commission. We have issued one subpoena requiring one adversely mentioned person to appear before the Commission during the fifth session.
We are happy to report that about two weeks ago, the TRRC received the long-awaited medical reports for all nine victims initially referred to the Medical Board set up at our request by the Ministry of Health in November, 2018. These included four victims of the April 10 / 11 student massacre and five victims of the April / May 2016 incident involving the arrests of Solo Sandeng and other persons. A copy of their individual reports has been made available to all victims and we have started working on how best to ensure that they get the treatment and care they need and deserve. We have so far been in touch with individuals and both national and international institutions with a view to facilitating access to treatment for these victims either at home or abroad. We are also in the process of setting up a Victim Support Fund to supplement whatever reparations funds are provided by the Gambia Government through the Ministry of Justice. A TRRC policy on reparations is at an advanced stage of formulation.
As part of our Never Again campaign, the TRRC continues to be engaged in robust outreach activities with the objective of supporting victims and fostering our national conversation on what went wrong, why it went wrong, and how best to prevent a recurrence of dictatorship and human rights violations in this country. During this fourth session, our Youth and Children’s Network Unit visited Kotu, Muslim, Kanifing East, and Brufut senior secondary schools. This is in addition to the 32 schools visited countrywide since November 2018. Meanwhile, the TRRC continues to sponsor students from various senior secondary schools in the Greater Banjul Area, the UTG, MDI, GTTI and other learning institutions to sit in on our hearings as a way of getting them involved in the process and getting their feedback on our work and their experiences. Our Reconciliation, Women’s Affairs, and Communications units have also conducted at least five town hall meetings and village dialogues, and at least four Women’s Listening Circles across the country. At least three outreach activities have so far been dedicated to survivors of Ex-President Jammeh’s sham Alternative AIDS Treatment Program. The Commission has also visited one village community that was a victim of Jammeh’s 2009 witch hunts. We expect to hold hearings on both the AIDS treatment program and the witch hunts before the end of this year. We are pleased to say that the TRRC was an active participant and co-sponsor of the 2019 Brufut Marathon.
As we work towards the fifth session, we wish to invite all victims and all persons who were directly or indirectly affected by, or have information on any human rights violations between July 22, 1994 and December 1996 to please come forward and give their statements. Witnesses and victims unable to make the trip to Dunes Resort are encouraged to call 9348929 / 2949170 / 2590391 / 5086200 and arrangements will be made to take their statements. Women are particularly encouraged to come forward and give statements according to modalities that preserve their safety and dignity and protect them from stigmatization and retaliation. The TRRC offers a modest reimbursement of transportation and other minor expenses to witnesses and victims travelling from other parts of the country to give their statements. Meanwhile, we wish to make clear that while there will be no hearings until June 10, the TRRC remains open for business.
Finally, we wish to take this opportunity to assure the general public that rumors making the rounds that Lead Counsel Essa Faal has resigned or been sacked from the TRRC are just that – rumors. Equally false are rumors that the Christian community is engaged in a fight with the TRRC or its Chairman. The TRRC remains intact and at peace with itself and with the Gambian public. While welcoming and embracing the general public’s enthusiastic engagement with the TRRC process, our Commissioners and staff remain one big family of friendly colleagues dedicated to the actualization of our mandate. We are confident that the crippling in-fighting among commissioners and staff of some truth commissions around the world will never happen at the TRRC. We continue to seek the understanding, support and blessings of the general public.
TRRC update: Search for the disappeared
A TRRC team led, by the Research & investigations Unit which has been engaged with searching for the remains of victims of November 11 1994 at Yundum Barracks has discovered the remains of seven victims believed to have been the officers of the GNA killed during the November 11 incident. The discovery comes after close to two weeks of digging. Members of the media and families of victims attended the scene of the exhumations. The chairman of the TRRC, Dr. Lamin J. Sise, other commissioners as well as senior members of the TRRC visited the site this morning.
Remembering April 10th and 11th, 2000
As part of its mandate, the TRRC is committed to supporting the welfare of survivors of Human rights violations and abuses in collaboration with other stakeholders and partners. In light of this role, it is imperative that the TRRC supports initiatives that will raise awareness about survivors of human rights abuses, help to boost their participation in the Transitional Justice process and help give them a voice or help amplify that voice. As such, the TRRC in partnership with the Brufut Marathon Association, Gambia Centre for Victims of Human Rights Violations (Victims’ Centre), the Human Rights Commission, the April 10 & 11 Foundation, TANGO, UTG Students’ Union and other CSOs, supported an initiative by survivors of April 10/11 2000, to commemorate the Student massacre which happened on that date in 2000. As part of the commemorations, a solidarity walk was organised on the 10th of April, a symposium titled JUSTICE RECONCILIATION AND NON-REOCCURRENCE on the 11th (to discuss the importance of freedom of expression and peaceful assembly as well as measures of safeguarding these rights, using the incident of April 10th 2000 as a backdrop) and finally the silver jubilee of the Brufut marathon was also dedicated to remembering April 10th and 11th 2000 (Run for justice and Reconciliation.
The Women’s Unit of the TRRC & the Women Commissioners, supported by the UN Transitional Justice Project, have been on the road holding dialogues with women across the country in relation to the work of the TRRC and the importance of women’s participation in the process. Yesterday we were in Janjanbureh and today we are in Bureng.
Press Release: International Women’s Day 2019 #BalanceForBetter
On this auspicious occasion of the international women’s day celebration, the Women Affaires Unit of the Truth Reconciliation and Reparations Commission (TRRC) joins the rest of the world to celebrate the achievements and contributions of women to the socio-economic development of the Gambia.
Annually, March 8 serves as a day to reflect on the success- stories and strives of women, the value of women in our societies and the impact of the efforts of women in the development of our societies, and as role models to our younger generation. Despite constituting more than 50% of The Gambia’s population, women remain under-represented in parliament, Boardrooms and in other high-level positions. This forms the crux of the 2019 International Women’s Day celebration theme #BalanceforBetter, advocating for more inclusion of women in all spheres of national development.
The Women’s Affairs Unit of the TRRC reaffirms its commitment to gender equality, advocating for equal rights, responsibilities and opportunities for women to balance the gender roles and mainstreaming of women issues in all spheres of national development. Most importantly, to see an increase in the number of women witnesses and or victims, and to safeguard their interest and protection during the TRRC process.
The theme for 2019’s celebration is #BalanceforBetter, a call for gender balance and women empowerment. Women in the Gambia have been inspirational in their various fields of work given the limited opportunities they have. They have further been breaking barriers by engaging in blue collar jobs that were male dominated. This gives a clear indication of the potentials of women that when given the opportunity they will succeed in further increasing the economy of the country for the better. The patriarchal structure of our society limits the rights and opportunities of women. However, Gambian Women are known for their wisdom, strength and determination in independently working for a living, while at the same time being caregivers in their homes and communities.
Despite the achievements registered, the rights of women have been violated in various forms during the past two decades of dictatorship. From being accused of witchcraft, to being sexually abused by public officials and actors of the state, women experienced some of the worse human rights violations in The Gambia. The TRRC under its mandate, seeks to ascertain the truthful accounts of these violations and abuses and to provide appropriate support to promote healing. For the TRRC, inclusion of women in its process is paramount. We therefore take this opportunity to encourage women to come out and narrate their stories. Our doors shall remain open throughout this process.
The women’s unit at the TRRC, hereby wishes all the women of the Gambia a Happy international Women’s Day 2019. #NEVERAGAIN
TRRC/ICTJ National Youth Caravan on Transitional Justice, February 4 – 13, 2019
by Cherno Gaye, Youth Empowerment Officer, TRRC
The International Center for Transitional Justice (ICTJ) in partnership with the Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission (TRRC) embarked on a ten-day nationwide youth caravan intended to use music, poetry and art as sensitization tools on transitional justice and nation-building. The theme of the caravan was “#OurNationOurVoice”. This was translated into Fula, Mandinka, Wollof and Jola and was made into a song by artists Awa Bling, Boobo Dimo and Yabse. The theme was also printed on the T-Shirts that the people on the caravan wore. Three regions were targeted: Upper River Region, (Basse and its surrounding villages), Central River Region (Janjanbureh and its surrounding villages) and North Bank Region (Farafenni and its surrounding villages).
2)Background On Monday 4th of February, the caravan left from Kombo to Basse with a group comprised of young people from different life pursuits and interests including activists, poets, musicians, and comedians. The ICTJ country rep (Joanna Rice), two staff from the TRRC (Cherno Gaye and Lala Touray of the Youth and Children’s Network Coordination Unit), three DJs and three drivers were also part of the team. On the 7th February the African Center for Democracy and Human Rights Studies (ACDHRS) also joined the caravan along with the TRRC’s Community Outreach Coordinator Imran Darboe. The ACDHRS added a sports component to the caravan activities.
The caravan arrived at Basse on Monday evening, On Tuesday, Joanna Rice and a couple of other people went out to meet and inform the Alkalos of four villages around Basse that we intended to visit on Wednesday, of our presence and to seek their support in mobilizing villagers the next day. The rest of the team visited Nasir Senior Secondary School and St. George’s Senior Secondary School to engage students. In the evening, members of the caravan (Cherno Gaye, Lala Touray, Joanna Rice and Boobo Dimo) went to two of the community radios in Basse for an hour-long radio program at each station. The radio discussions centered around the mandate of the TRRC, the role of the ICTJ in the transitional justice process of the country, the importance of the #NeverAgain Campaign as well as the role of art, music, poetry and comedy in particular, in helping spread the message to all the people of this country.
On Wednesday the 6th of February the team visited four villages around Basse beginning with Gambisara, then to Sotuma Samba, Sotuma Sire and Alunghareh. The team distributed fliers, played music through the villages and held a dialogue session at each village’s Bantaba attended by the Alkalo, village elders, women and youth. Discussions focused on what the transitional justice process is about, why it is happening and what role the ordinary people have to play as far this process is concerned. The various institutions set up to see this process through were touched on, with the TRRC particularly cited as one of these fundamental institutions. The greater part of the discussion was centered on the role of the people in helping achieve the #NeverAgain Campaign, their rights and responsibilities as citizens and their duty to hold government accountable and protect democracy. After the opening statements in each village, villagers picked up the mike to voice out their thoughts and opinions, while some had questions. Most of the speakers expressed agreement with the fact that since power belongs to the people, it is important that we use it to our advantage, by selecting leaders who have our interest at heart. They also condemned in strong terms, tribalism and un-civil political divisions. The discussions were followed by the artists performing songs they recorded for the caravan.
On the 7th of February, ACDHRS and the outreach coordinator of the TRRC joined the caravan, adding sports to the activities of the tour. The sports component was funded by ACDHRS and a basketball and volleyball competition was organized at Basse Youth Center in the evening, which was then followed by a free concert by a combination of local artists and those on the caravan. Cherno Gaye and Lala Touray recited poems, Awa Bling, Boobo Dimo, Yabse and finally the Bright Stars Entertainment crew each performed their specially made songs on varied aspects of transitional justice. All in all, it was a successful event. Our message was sent through, the people were entertained and refreshed, and in the end, our stay in URR was a success.
On the 8th the caravan left Basse for Janjanbureh, where the same format as in Basse was repeated. The villages visited were Yorro Biri Kunda, Boraba and Sankuleh Kunda. We also had a radio program at Bansang on the 8th and on the final day we had a football match between Armitage Senior Secondary School and the Community followed by a concert.
The caravan then headed to Farafenni on the 11th. We visited the villages of Noo Kunda, Illiasa and Yallal. A football and volleyball match were organized on the final day, 13th, followed by a big concert on the night. The caravan left Farafenni to return to Kombo on Thursday Morning having completed a successful nationwide tour.
Upper River Region –Gambisara, Sotuma Samba, Sotuma Sire, Alunghareh
Central River Region – Sankuleh-Kunda, Yerro Biri, KundaBoraba
North Bank Region –Noo kunda, Iliasa, Yallal
·The artists in the persons of Awa Bling, Boobo Dimo, Yabse, and the Bright Stars Crew were exceptionally instrumental in the mobilization and sensitization of the people in the communities visited. Their songs captured the entire purpose of the caravan tour, enabling us to reach the people in a way that speeches and discussions could never reach them. Bright Starts Entertainment Crew in particular were so influential during these ten days. We are convinced that the TRRC should engage them more often in its outreach activities.
· The Caravan was able to meet at least 3000 people (conservative estimate) directly in three communities. Coupled with the social media hype of the tour and radio programs, the indirect reach should be over 6000 people.
· Some communities have victims who need to be sensitized on why they should come forward as witnesses to the TRRC
5)Recommendations from the visited communities
From the community engagements, a lot of points and questions were raised. It a nutshell, the following recommendations capture the general gist of the main points that were made by the communities.
1. The transitional Justice institutions should warn government to consider the economic situation of the rural communities if they want a united Gambia
2. People who have been wronged and denied things that were their rights should have restitution
3. For the TJ process to be a success, rural communities should not be treated as secondary citizens any longer
4. Ways should be found in the TJ process, to separate the president or president’s name from groups like the “Green boys/Barrow Youth for national development” etc., on which national resources are sometimes spent
5. There is no access to GRTS in some communities though they can get Senegalese stations. This should be addressed if citizens are expected to know what’s going on in the country and be aware of current affairs and civic education.
6. Youth should do more engagements like the youth caravan, in order to make people more aware.
7. More outreach on role of citizens in constitutional democracy is needed, particularly on what steps communities or individuals can take to address infringements to their constitutional rights.
8. Police officers along the route and in the communities requested for TRRC/TJ T-shirts as they are also part of the Nation and can promote the objectives of the commission and TJ process
TRRC Commissioner Training
September 10, 2018
Truth Commission Training Of Commissioners and Senior Staff of the TRRC
TRRC Town Hall – Serrakunda
September 22, 2018
Townhalls are community conversations with the TRRC open to all citizens. Gambians from all walks of life are welcome and encouraged to share their hopes, concerns and perspectives on the our recent past and our collective efforts to shape a better future.
Women’s Listening Circle
September 29, 2018
The TRRC and its Commissioners will be hosting Women’s Listening Circles. These events are specially designated places for women to discuss the challenges they faced under the Jammeh regime due to being a women or girl. This is a place for Gambian women together to find new voice.
Young Voices Campaign: Constituent Assembly
October 06, 2018
Gambia’s young leaders are driving positive change in our nation. The energy, determination and creativity they commit to the new Gambian embodies the ‘Never Again’ work of the TRRC.
To capture young voices and engage young leaders in our work, the TRRC is hosting a Constituent Assembly in coordination with our partners from the youth movement. Over two days, young leaders will be elected by their peers to join the TRRC in Kombo to share their views, concerns, aims and commitments for the Gambian transitional justice process.
This event is in collaboration with the National Youth Council, TANGO, ICTJ and the UNDP.